Professor of History Kim Lacy Rogers died on Feb. 21. Her teaching and research centered on recent U.S. history, urban America and gender and family history. She was also a contributing faculty member to the American studies and Africana studies departments. Colleagues, friends and family gathered April 5 in Allison Hall for a memorial service. Below are tributes by colleagues and students.
Kim... A remarkable person, friend always ready with bread and cheese and something white—and a prolific scholar. I was asked to speak about a little bit about her scholarship: Kim Lacy Rogers’s book titles ranged from Trauma and Life Stories and Righteous Lives, Life and Death in the Mississippi Delta to Interactive Oral History Interviewing. Kim cared deeply about the lives of people she was recording and the conditions that shaped their life experiences—from poverty and racism to violence and healing, resilience and social change. Kim knew well that the inter-view involved a reciprocal relationship that called for deep listening and respect—a mutual sighting, if you will—between the narrator and the interviewer.
As a good historian, Kim was meticulous in preparing for the interviews she would conduct, in transcribing and analyzing them, and then in archiving them—making sure they were available to other scholars and students. The 200 hours of taped oral-history interviews she conducted with African American civil rights communities and leaders in New Orleans have been deposited in the Amistad Research Institute at Tulane University, and the life stories of 100 community activists and civil rights leaders she conducted with Tom Dent and Jerry Ward in the Mississippi Delta have been archived in the Tugaloo College archives and in the Community Studies Center (CSC) archives at Dickinson College.
Kim was one of the founders of CSC and its first director, motivated by the desire to create an archive for faculty and student research that would be of value to future scholars and students—and meant to encourage and sustain serious work in community studies and qualitative research methods.
Kim was both a leader and an active participant in creating networks of people who had similar scholarly interests and commitments to work that focused on social justice at its core. She co-directed the second Steelton Mosaic with Tyra Seldon (American studies) and me (sociology) that worked collaboratively with the African American community within a town hit hard by deindustrialization; and she co-directed the Black Liberation Movements Mosaic with Jeremy Ball (history) and Amy Wlodarski (music). Kim possessed a generous spirit and brilliant mind that sought out and shared questions of import; she was interested in discovering and exploring rather than impressing. Also with a quirky and at times saucy (and perhaps Southern) sense of humor, she brought people together to talk, discuss, laugh and dance. And she was a great, expressive dancer.
In the last few years, Kim was engaged in a study of religious movements in the U.S., with a particular focus on Buddhist and Sikh communities—and with their approach to engaging the last stages of life, their use of alternative medicines and spiritual practice and their involvement in the hospice movement. The title of her recent work: “Great Matters of Live and Death: Americans Confront Aging, Illness and the End of Life.” And so she did as well.
Kim was drawn to Buddhist practice, so I thought I would end with what I found as I was helping to clear out Kim’s files:
Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion—
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the suffering that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
—Thich Nhat Hanh, in Singing the Living Tradition
In the summer of 2007, Susan Rose invited Kim, my wife, Amy Wlodarski, and I to brainstorm a Mosaic focused on narratives about the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements. In the course of working on the project, which took the three of us and eight students to South Africa and Clarksdale, Miss., in search of stories about the impact of music on the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements, we came to love Kim not just as a colleague, but as a part of our family.
In her interactions with the students and local historians, we witnessed Kim as a masterful teacher of oral history, who helped all of us grapple with listening to painful and poignant stories of personal sacrifice with compassion. She always encouraged the students to take the lead in the interviews, allowing them to feel directly invested in the project and to learn about oral history through the practice of doing it themselves in the field. Kim’s quiet competence, supportive pedagogy and warm interactions with the students empowered them to succeed, and in South Africa earned her the local Xhosa nickname Nontando, “One who is loved.”
In Clarksdale, Miss., Kim’s reputation as a trusted historian opened doors due to a reservoir of good will and respect resulting from her book, Life and Death in the Delta. Kim’s work had helped these communities to reevaluate their past in new and necessary ways, and institutions such as Ole Miss [University of Mississippi] allowed us unfettered access to their archives due to her stature in the field.
But beyond her accomplishments as a master historian who made profound contributions to understanding the complexity of American racism, Kim was a beloved friend and vibrant human being. With a down-to-earth nature, enlivened by a mischievous sense of humor and uncanny ability to call it as she saw it, her frequent visits to our home were always bright moments.
We miss our shared evenings and meals with her—whether in the field or the steamy summers of Carlisle—where Kim would always arrive with a bottle of her signature “crisp, dry white wine” to share together. Kim’s stories—of her fieldwork in Mississippi, New Orleans, and the Southwest, of what her “mama always used to say,” and her impersonations of various characters she had met along the way—always made us laugh, as did the multiple fertility totems from all over the world that she inevitably began leaving at the house after we were married.
Personally, I will miss our conversations about music, from which I learnt so much. Her stories from the field reminded me of how song binds people together through collective action—in both happy times and difficult ones—a lesson that we passed on to our students in the Mosaic. When I was asked to think about a musical selection for today’s memorial, it was clear there could be only one choice: “We Shall Overcome,” the Civil Rights anthem that speaks of those things we came to admire most about Kim—her sense of community, her practice of social justice through teaching and her belief that individuals become bound through the experiences they share with one another. Please join me in singing.
Kim Rogers was an influential member of the Dickinson community. Since arriving on campus, Professor Rogers dedicated her time to the growth and success of her students. One of my fondest memories of Professor Rogers was seeing her around Carlisle walking her beloved dogs. Dickinson lost a talented teacher, mentor and, most of all, a friend. Kim Rogers will be missed dearly.
Read more from the spring 2014 issue of Dickinson Magazine.
Published April 22, 2014